Evidence and Argument: Making a Case



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Evidence and Argument: Making a Case



Oftentimes, when writing, we are tempted to see the evidence itself as development, but it’s only a start. Consider a trial, where evidence is always central. In a trial, no evidence is ever considered self-evident—the lawyer has to make a case for its introduction, explain why it’s legitimate evidence. Then the evidence has to be examined—is it what it appears to be? Is it accurate? How else could it be explained? Then it has to be linked to other evidence in the case in a logical way. So evidence needs to be found, introduced, explained and examined, and then finally woven into an argument that calls for guilt or innocence.

“AXES” Method of Developing Paragraphs




Claim/thesis




Assertion

sig




Assertion

sig




Assertion

sig




Assertion




Explain

Explain

Explain

Explain







e

x










e

x










e

x










e

x




A = Assertion

X = EXample

E = Explanation

S = Significance


In the examples that follow, we are going to be working with a comparison/contrast paper that is examining the relationship between prison experience as described by Malcolm X and the reader's own experience. We'll assume that the claim is something like



Malcolm X’s essay “Learning to Read and Write” suggests that if one wants to work hard, one can succeed—even while in prison. A comparison of my prison experience with X’s, however, reveals significant differences between the opportunities for self-improvement available in men’s and women’s correctional institutions. While men and women prisoners can both work hard, the male inmate’s advantages give him a better chance of succeeding.

Assertion: The assertion (AKA “topic sentence”) states the specific point that you will be making in the paragraph; moreover, the assertion connects the paragraph to your thesis/claim by linking the specific point of the paragraph back to a central concern of the claim. Generally, assertions should go at or near the beginnings of paragraphs (for example, after a transitional sentence); “buried” assertions create an essay that is difficult to follow, and an essay without any assertions will seem like a list of unrelated facts or opinions. (A good way to test the effectiveness of your assertions is to read just your claim and the assertions in order: this is the backbone of your essay.)
Assertions must be arguable, points that you are making. Therefore, any statement that begins, “The author says . . .” or “Book Title is about . . .” is not an assertion; it is a summary statement, evidence that might be useful later in the paragraph or elsewhere, but not an effective lead.
Weak assertion: Another thing mentioned by X are the classes.
Stronger assertion: Moreover, male and female prisons differ in the
quality and quantity of opportunities for formal
education.
Remember, assertions should always reflect a point that you are making in your argument (so obviously, you shouldn’t begin a paragraph with a quote from someone else).
However, an essay with too many assertions will seem unbelievable (and bossy) unless you provide . . .
EXamples: Examples are the evidence that supports your assertions. When analyzing a text, an example must be a direct quote from the text. Other kinds of arguments might rely on examples, data, quotes, experience, etc. as evidence. Quotes should be introduced and briefly contextualized.
If you do not give any examples, the reader will wonder where you derived your assertions and thus be skeptical about their validity. If you can’t find any evidence for what you are asserting, ask yourself how you came to that particular conclusion: you may be speculating or drawing unwarranted conclusions; perhaps you need to back up and revise your assertion so that it’s supportable. Evidence for the assertion presented in the previous example might look like this:
For example, X remarks that he had available to him a “variety of classes” taught by “instructors who came from such places as Harvard and Boston universities” and “books on just about every general subject,” including a huge collection donated by philanthropist Parkhurst (79). These books included texts integral to an accurate and complete understanding of African American history, texts that helped X formulate a new, positive identity for himself (81). My prison’s library also held donated books, but they didn’t come from Parkhurst, and few people would consider them “important”: most of the offerings were recycled paperback romance novels and hopelessly dated “Home Economics” textbooks, neither of which the inmates had much use for. As for instructors, unless you count the social workers who came to lecture us on the importance of birth control and “job skills,” there weren’t any.

However, an example never speaks for itself, so you must provide . . .


Explanations: Explanations clarify how and why the evidence relates to your assertion and subsequently to your central claim. In textual analysis, for example, an explanation of a quote pulls out particular words, images, references, etc. from the example and shows how these support the assertion. Explanations of examples and data outline the reasoning that logically links the evidence to the assertion.
Our previous example of evidence also includes some explanation:
These books included texts integral to an accurate and complete
understanding of African American history, texts that helped X formulate a new, positive identity for himself.

Additional explanation might look like this:


Even if I had wanted to fashion my own “homemade education” (85), the means simply weren’t available. Without the books and classes to open up a new world, the inmates at Swanbottom Women’s Correctional Institute were left with the same old options: sexy (white) plaything for men (romance novels) or (white) mommy/wife (Home Economics texts).

If you simply state, support, and explain your assertions, however, your reader may respond with indifference unless you also provide . . .



Significance: Statements of significance answer “So what?” about your point by explaining why the point made in the paragraph is important in light of your thesis. Providing significance is crucial to making an argument that says something, has a purpose, or is interesting.
In this case, we said the claim was

Malcolm X’s essay “Learning to Read and Write” suggests that if one wants to work hard, one can succeed—even while in prison. A comparison of my prison experience with X’s, however, reveals significant differences between the opportunities for self-improvement available in men’s and women’s correctional institutions. While men and women prisoners can both work hard, the male inmate’s advantages give him a better chance of succeeding.


Significance:
X’s education may look stripped-down at first glance, but compared to the choices given women, it’s positively luxurious.

Finished paragraph:



Moreover, male and female prisons differ in the quality and quantity of opportunities for formal education. For example, X remarks that he had available to him a “variety of classes” taught by “instructors who came from such places as Harvard and Boston universities” and “books on just about every general subject,” including a huge collection donated by philanthropist Parkhurst (79). These books included texts integral to an accurate and complete understanding of African American history, texts that helped X formulate a new, positive identity for himself (81). My prison’s library also held donated books, but they didn’t come from Parkhurst, and few people would consider them “important”: most of the offerings were recycled paperback romance novels and hopelessly dated “Home Economics” textbooks, neither of which the inmates had much use for. As for instructors, unless you count the social workers who came to lecture us on the importance of birth control and “job skills,” there weren’t any. Even if I had wanted to fashion my own “homemade education” (85), the means simply weren’t available. Without the books and classes to open up a new world, the inmates at Swanbottom Women’s Correctional Institute were left with the same old options: sexy (white) plaything for men (romance novels) or (white) mommy/wife (Home Economics). X’s education may look stripped-down at first glance, but compared to the choices given women, it’s positively luxurious.



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